RDS YH Interview
24 March 2017
Spinal Extended Scope Physiotherapist, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow, Sheffield Hallam University 2015 – 2019
“The RDS are not critiquing applications for the sake of it. They make suggestions and give fine detail on methodologies, particular designs and approaches to research that I wouldn’t otherwise know about as I’m a clinician by trade. They’ve been invaluable.”
Initial Research Design Service (RDS) contact
“I’ve been involved with the RDS for a good number of years now on different projects. Some time ago my colleague and I were applying for a Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) grant. We were both very new to the research field. Someone recommended the RDS so we came and sat down with an adviser and it was a real eye opener – because not only did we get technical research advice but also very practical advice as to steps to take, people to speak to, advice around the fringes of our specific question. We thought we’d gone quite far along the track but the useful advice we were given raised questions raised questions which prompted further thought and discussion with others. The adviser took a really holistic view of the topic and gave us a critical overview which was invaluable. It took three visits to the RDS to refine and to get further critiquing of our application but we were successful which was brilliant.
We then worked on and off on four or five small projects some of which were clinically based. Because I’d had that really positive experience previously with the RDS guiding us towards where we needed to be, we knew that part of their winning formula was to help get the people who know what they are doing to be involved as soon as possible – at least three turned into very useful projects – small scale but were presented nationally and internationally.
Our field is spinal physiotherapy which overlaps several different areas. The RDS has been very useful in helping us to develop networks and that otherwise we wouldn’t have the chance to make contact with. The RDS have lots of people coming through, often they will say ‘would you mind if I gave X your details?’ they sees and filter and pass on details. That’s very good.
The first time I applied for an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship (DRF) the RDS adviced that my application was going to need a lot more work to show that this was a question that needs answering – very useful critical advice. I was put through the wringer really by the RDS but persevered and it was useful. I wasn’t successful but it prepared me and the following year I applied again and was invited to resubmit with changes. I kept in touch with the RDS and they worked with me to refine the application.
“You go to RDS for expert advice where else would you get that for nothing – my view is that you’ve got to listen to that advice. It’s not personal it’s about the work needing more of this or that. “
Since I got the Doctoral funding we continue to use the RDS regularly and keep in touch on projects that are on-going. As my expertise has grown within the academic framework my use of the RDS has changed somewhat. Now it’s much more I’ll go with a specific question about a specific aspect of a specific design or methodology. My contact widens out and contracts according to my needs and the project.
RDS public involvement
For the first project I drew on RDS PPI expertise for support but less so now because we have our own PPI panel that we set up 8 or 9 years ago across the hospitals involved in specific spinal projects – department wide. The Panel are our ‘go to’ people and have been invaluable in everything we do. We meet them very regularly and give updates about on-going projects and discuss ideas for new projects.
About 5-6 years ago the panel were the instigators of the doctoral research I’m doing now on the early intervention for sciatica. A couple of ex-patients had different experiences of treatments in other hospitals and asked the question why the treatment differed in this area. That’s how it came about. And now well into the project the panel have so far been involved in the qualitative/ mixed methods design and deciding refinements for the recruitment phases based on the findings of the pilot.
“It was a dream process – a co-designed project – they came up with the idea, I refined it with them, they went to the RDS and did much of the legwork and we are now 2 years into the research”.
The RDS questioned us on what we were trying to measure given the complexity of the intervention, they helped us focus in on what we could achieve, really giving attention to the detail – breaking it down into the minutiae of the subsets and sub steps we needed to think through. Really, really useful.
Impact of RDS advice and support
The RDS have always provided clarity – I did not have an academic background and was a full time clinician and would have struggled without their expertise. Probing on whether the question is worthy, worthwhile and valuable. Clarity on the design methodology, the people involved and what the NIHR funding bodies are looking for. The way clinicians work is very different to the academic world and having the RDS to help navigate the way through is extremely useful.
Through the NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship award my network has exploded. I now work with four or five spinal physiotherapists round the country as well as other clinicians including surgeons wanting to do research. Locally it has meant we’re doing lots more research as a result and more of our physiotherapists and surgeons are going to RDS from our department with ideas. They are realising the RDS are able to guide them.
Lessons to pass on to researchers
“Having experienced advisers is key. My experience of going to the RDS has almost always led me to where I needed to go. They make me justify why I’m doing X not Y and know who to talk to. Persist!”